Kelp is the new kale, yo
A couple weekends ago, Bren had us out to the Thimble Island Oyster Co. farm in the Long Island Sound. When we visited in September, the focus was on oysters. This time it was on his spring crop: kelp and seaweed.
Bren’s idea in planting kelp and seaweed is to make the most of his ocean acreage. Why just grow oysters on the sea bed when he can grow nutrient-rich edible greens in the water column above them? He calls it “3D farming” and the fact that it’s local and hyper-sustainable — unlike land farming, ocean farms don’t require water or fertilizer, and kelp, like oysters, actively cleans the water its in — has made it very intriguing to journalists and policymakers alike. (Remember the recent WSJ article about him? and the current Lucky Peach has an article about him, too, though I’ve yet to get my hands on it.)
However … it’s all well and good to talk about seaweed. People need to eat it too. Clearly, we eat dried seaweed of many varieties. It’s the fresh stuff — which only Bren can provide to the NYC market — that is so foreign to our palates.
The challenge Bren has set for himself is no small thing. He needs to create demand for the stuff. And that’s what this tour was all about.
In addition to me and M., we had Chef Dave of Louro and a food writer and truffle dealer named Helen (who happened to go to my college and oh! we have so much in common, it was a real treat to meet her).
We tasted kelp straight from the sea. We tasted a kelp butter that a friend of Bren’s is making. And (perhaps most exciting) we tasted a cocktail that M. concocted with kelp-infused spirit, aquavit, verjus, and carrot juice.
It was good!
The infused spirit is delightfully briny and chock-full of umami — M. says he gets hints of black tea. Ummmmm ok, supertaster. I’ll take your word for it.
Point is, kelp brings something new to the flavor table/kitchen/cocktail bar, and it’s really thrilling to be a part of it.
For example, at Dave’s next Monday night supper club meal at Louro, he’s starting with a seaweed salad inspired by his trip to the Thimble Islands. And we can all readily imagine the new Scandinavian chefs being all over this ingredient (several are already experimenting with Bren’s kelp as I write this).
M. is thinking about developing an umami shrub, starring kelp and other unctuous flavors — which I think would be a hella baller cocktail ingredient.
And I’m sure he’ll feature kelp spirits in special cocktails on Sunday nights at Dram.
There are kelp noodles in the works.
And we should definitely make kelp chips!
So basically, watch this space.
We’re not stopping ‘til kelp is the new kale.